Thirty-seven years ago I graduated from Balwyn High School’s Year 12 class of 1986. I left the school with mixed memories.
On the one hand I came away with a fine appreciation for maths and science, made a lifelong friend, and passed my HSC with decent results that got me into college.
On the other hand I had been the victim of homophobic bullying and torment throughout my time there, and suffered greatly as a result of it, and of my fear of being gay. The school had no support for gay students, at least that I was aware of. It was a topic that simply wasn’t spoken about.
I am thrilled beyond belief to find that in 2023 my alma mater not only supports gay students but is committed to providing a safe, nourishing and inclusive space for all LGBTQI+ students.
When invited to submit a contribution for their Lion newsletter on the occasion of receiving my Order of Australia, I had no idea it would be intentionally included to time with IDAHOBIT Day on May 17.
Students at Balwyn High are most fortunate to have a school environment that values diversity, particularly under the leadership of Principal Deborah Harman.
Thank you Balwyn High School.
Our Alumni Spotlights continue – Malcolm Speed AO and Michael Barnett OAM
This week we feature international sporting administrator, Malcolm Speed, who was inducted into the Sport Hall of Achievement in 2012, and Michael Barnett, who was recently awarded an OAM in the New Year’s Honours List. The spotlight on Michael deliberately coincides with this week’s celebrations for IDAHOBIT Day that we marked on Wednesday.
Both Malcolm and Michael are marvellous ambassadors for our school community, and we congratulate them for the impact they have made in their careers. I hope you enjoy reading their stories.
Evangelical Christian churches are using some New South Wales schools to allegedly preach homophobic messages, SBS can reveal.
Recordings of sermons obtained by SBS include teachings that the punishment for gay sex is death, marriage and sex is between a man and a woman only, and that the gay “lifestyle” is “unhappy”.
The sermons are being delivered by members of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. Many of the churches are housed on public school grounds in NSW, where they conduct weekly services by arrangement with the individual schools.
One recording of a sermon on homosexuality and the Bible’s book of Leviticus from the Lakes Christian Church, based inside the Berkeley Vale Campus, Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College on the NSW Central Coast, includes references to the “death penalty” as a punishment for the “sin” of homosexuality.
“In Chapter 20, He [God] states the death penalty for those who disobey. And notice throughout…if it is not the death penalty, it’s being cut off from the people of God, which is still death, not just instant death and so God is serious about sexual purity,” the pastor claims in the recording, which has since been removed from the church’s website.
The Hunter Bible church which operates from Lambton Public School in NSW. (Supplied)
The sermon goes on to preach that: “God’s good design for sex within marriage” is between “one man and a woman”.
“Even though books have been written and studies have been conducted to show that the gay lifestyle is not a happy one, people persist in the rejection of God. Let me encourage you that if you are in any doubt about how destructive that sexual sin is…have a look at the research and I can, I can point it out to you.”
In a response to questions about the sermon from SBS a spokesman for The Lakes Church said it was from 2013 and that he did not believe the sermon was homophobic in nature.
“Views on sexual ethics differ in society,” he said. “Our beliefs are those of mainstream Christian churches around the world. We teach that Christ offers life and hope in a world which lacks both.”
The spokesman also told SBS the sermon was specifically in relation to a talk on sexual ethics at The Festival of Dangerous Ideas and that it was being misconstrued when taken outside of that context.
A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said it was forbidden to use school facilities to spread homophobia.
“The Department of Education does not allow any group or church to use school grounds to preach homophobic messages,” he told SBS, referring to the NSW Department of Education’s policy on the use of school facilities.
Berkeley Vale Campus, Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College, Lambton High School and Maitland Evangelical Churches did not respond to requests for comment by SBS.
Maitland Grossman High School said it did not wish to comment.
Darrin Morgan, from the lobby group Human Rights Advocacy Australia (HRAA), said he complained to both the Department of Education and Berkeley Vale Campus, Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College in April this year but said other than asking the church not to preach homophobic messages, no further action had been taken.
“HRAA believes that NSW public school facilities should not be used to promote beliefs which marginalise members of both the school and wider community,” he told SBS.
Coming in the school gate: The battle over religious education in public schools
A series of incidents involving extreme Christian teachings about wives submitting to husbands, gender roles and Harry Potter being witchcraft in NSW public schools has led to renewed calls to ban scripture classes during school hours.
In response to a complaint from HRAA to Lakes Secondary College Berkeley Vale Campus, the acting principal confirmed the school was aware of the sermon and that it was not appropriate material.
“I have determined that the sermon described in your complaint was not consistent with the expectations of the community use agreement between Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College Berkeley Vale Campus and The Lakes Church,” she wrote in response to HRAA’s complaint.
However the church continues to operate from the school. The Lakes Church spokesman said he believed the Church was compliant with the Department’s guidelines.
“We believe that we comply with the conditions of our agreement to use school facilities,” he told SBS.
Mr Morgan said religious groups with these views should not be accessing school facilities.
“HRAA is simply asking the minister for education and the Department of Education to implement the department’s own policies and procedures in an objective and neutral manner. This requires such organisations to be deemed ‘inappropriate organisations’ and therefore must be denied use of public school facilities,” he said.
“God does not want us sinking in a sea of shame,” the Pastor says.
“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, with the wife of his neighbour; both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. Now that sounds drastic doesn’t it and it is – God will judge sexual sin – the Israelites didn’t get away with it back then, and we will not get away with it either.”
As a resilience coach I am adamant that, in any bullying situation, you must own your part of the problem, no matter how small, no matter how unfair it may seem. No one is lily-white and blameless.
As a wise person once said – you must clean up your side of the street.
Earlier this year, I employed a gardener to do some work in our backyard. For 2.5 hours he worked but stopped many times to chat to me. In a short period I heard his life story – his marriage breakup, how his children were not talking to him, how he lost everything, how he had a breakdown, how he doesn’t have many friends, how hard it was to find a girlfriend. His life narrative was all negative and I heard not one moment of self-reflection or the taking of responsibility. He also asked not one question about my life. Such self-absorption may explain a lot.
This gardener was a bore. He was no people magnet.
Importantly, he appeared to take no responsibility for his situation. So, nothing for him will change.
You can only change what you are prepared to acknowledge.
If your son is currently being bullied, in the spirit of cleaning up your side of the street:
Is he part of the problem? Even 5%?
Is he a whinger, a complainer, self-absorbed, an exaggerator, loose with the truth, a passive doormat, displaying negative body language, an approval addict, a try hard, critical or a bad sport?
Of course, you might say but how can my son clean up his side of the street if he is the target of cruel taunts because he has buck teeth, acne, a disability or a lisp. That’s not his fault.
Of course, it’s not his fault, but owning his small part of the unpleasant problem may be learning to stand up for himself, developing grit, steely self-belief, strong self-esteem, choosing his friends wisely and reminding himself that the bullies are dealing with their own demons and that the problem lies principally with them and not him.
After having been bullied myself for most of high school, it was only when I was brave enough and self-aware enough to ‘own’ my part of the problem that the bullying stopped. I earned respect whilst building self-respect.
Time to own your part, and stop playing the victim.
An update from the Headmaster of Brighton Grammar You may be aware of the media coverage today concerning the article, Bullying: helping your son be the victor, not the victim written by Melissa Anderson. There have been some strong responses to Melissa’s bullying article in all forms of media today, some of them expressing great distress and others, interest in the views. Bullying is an extremely sensitive issue and we understand that. As a result of publishing Melissa’s article, it is clear we may have caused upset and distress to some people. We unreservedly apologise for that. Out of respect for people who may have been victims of bullying, and in particular for those who were upset by Melissa’s article, we have made the decision to cancel her presentation tomorrow night at our school and will have further discussions with her about today’s response to her views. However, I would also like to make it clear that I believe it is a school’s responsibility to be proactive about bullying. As well as having a clearly articulated and publicly available policy on bullying (here), we run many programs for the boys about respectful relationships, bullying and such issues. We also like to provide parents with information about a range of issues through parent seminars, weekly tips in our eNewsletter, information nights and online. I apologise for any inconvenience caused by the cancellation of the presentation tomorrow night. Please also know I am available and welcome anybody in the community who would like to discuss the issue of bullying with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly by email Ross Featherston, Headmaster
The principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College needs to speak up on LGBTIQ inclusion at his school.
From: Michael Barnett
Date: 22 March 2016 at 01:10
Subject: Will you break your silence on homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism?
To: James Kennard <email@example.com>
Dear Principal Kennard,
Tonight I attended a Save Safe Schools rally at the State Library of Victoria.
Present at this rally was State Education Minister James Merlino, along with a range of teachers, students, parents and other concerned parties.
These people are collectively concerned about the welfare of students, and in particular, those students who experience difference in terms of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Their concern stems from credible research that shows without necessary support, there are elevated levels of suicide. Let me repeat. Elevated levels of suicide.
I know you are an orthodox rabbi. You are also the principal of a school. I know that as an orthodox rabbi who is a principal of a school you are personally conflicted, because your training as a rabbi puts you at odds with the research, sadly. And despite this you are a signatory of the Statement of Principles, a document that could be so much more but ultimately is one that pities homosexual people and blames them for their rates of suicide.
I am writing to you not to plead or beg for you to change your perspectives on homosexuality or related issues because that would be a complete waste of my time.
What I am writing to you is to ask you how you are making the students at your school understand how you can comfortably live with the knowledge that in not talking openly and inclusively about the the wonderful diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity, you are elevating their levels of mental illness, self harm and risk of suicide.
I know you probably don’t ask them what they think of your attitudes toward these icky issues, but trust me, many other people are talking about you and your intolerance of such diversity. And these people are not just the parents, but also the teachers and the principals of other schools.
They are looking at you and wondering how a dinosaur like you can be in a position of authority at a prominent day school in Melbourne. I know dinosaurs are supposed to be extinct, but someone recently discovered a Christenosaurus and a Bernardi-Rex, so it stands that a Kennarderatops could still be alive.
I’m not joking. These dinosaurs are killing our students. They are driving them to the depths of despair, exacerbating their anxiety levels and making life unbearable.
Personally, I’d rather not have to write this letter but if I didn’t write to you I’d feel I hadn’t made my best effort to stamp out bigotry, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Mount Scopus Memorial College.
If my dreams were to come true I’d see a response to this letter saying “But Michael, we’ve had Roz Ward come to talk to us and we’re signing up to Safe Schools tomorrow, just like King David, Bialik and Sholem Aleichem have done. We know Safe Schools is best practices, has proven outcomes and is respected nationally.”
I’m not sure that I’ll be so lucky in my wishes, but I can hope.
This is not complicated. Either you are committed to the best outcomes for your students or you are ripping off the parents at your school. If you are committed to the best outcomes for your students, in terms of overall well-being, academic excellence, sporting excellence and self-respect, then unless you are talking openly and unconditionally about these issues, I’d say you’re failing the entire school community.
Except perhaps those people who believe the Torah has it right about homosexuality, the bit where we are sinners.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I was bullied at school. I was tormented and ridiculed. I was scared to fucking hell of being gay, because when I had the shit kicked out of me on a regular basis, told I was a poofter and a pansy, that I was a fag and a homo, when I was scared to be creative, to be expressive, to shine as a student because that would make me gay, because I was scared I would be kicked out of home if my parents found out I was homosexual, because I had terrible anxiety through my teens and I hated every day I was alive, because I barely passed my year 12 exams because I didn’t want to excel in English because I was hiding a secret and found failure more rewarding, this was all because I had no one tell me that I was ok, that I was normal, that I was fine, that I was not a sinner, not a pervert, not an abomination, not aberrant, not broken and not deviant.
How many students at your school are openly accepted and affirmed because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or any other configuration other than heterosexual and cis-gender? Do you know or do you bury your head in the sand and go la-la-la-la-la?
How many same-sex marriages of past students does your school recognise in it’s newsletter? How many rainbow families are reflected in the school’s religious program, like the shabbat service with two ima’s and/or two aba’s? How many students are openly supported in transitioning their gender at your school?
I will confidently tell you that unless you can make a public statement that addresses all of these issues in a positive, affirmative and inclusive light, free of harmful religious rhetoric, you are failing your entire school community, your students, their families, your board and ultimately yourself.
I don’t need a lesson on halacha in reply. I just need you to understand that every day of silence is another day you haven’t done your best to prevent the death of the next trans, bi, gay, or queer student at your school. And if you haven’t done your best, you are not worth being the principal of any school.
What is it Principal Kennard? Are you doing your best or are you failing everyone?
PS. As a courtesy, I’m letting you know this letter is going online and will be distributed to a variety of people who care about the welfare of students at your school. I want people to see the harm that is being inflicted on their students by your ongoing silence.
A helpful background piece on this issue can be found here along with a petition here.
Staggering to see Principal James Kennard ‘like’ a post on Facebook questioning the merit of the Safe Schools program. He has since reversed the ‘like’ on the post, but that he liked it in the first place is unfathomable for someone of his standing.
Mount Scopus Memorial College is not offering the safest schooling experience possible under its principal Rabbi James Kennard.
Come on Mount Scopus, it’s 2013 and it’s ok to say the words GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER, INTERSEX and QUEER. Really, it is.
It’s also ok to teach kids about homophobia and transphobia. Offering a safe environment for students goes well beyond a basic anti-bullying program. Telling students it’s not ok to tease or bully another student because they’re “gay” or “fat” or “stupid” is only the start in educating them about diversity, inclusion and acceptance. It goes well beyond that, something that any educationalist worth their salt should know.
Parents, watch this video and then ask your Principal, Rabbi James Kennard, why he is refusing to give your students the safest possible schooling your hard-earned money can buy when he says he won’t join the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (web site / Facebook page). You are currently paying for a SECOND RATE school while many others, including King David School, are offering a far safer environment for their students than Mount Scopus.
Sign Daniel Baker’s petition too and leave a message about why a safer school for your precious children is so important. They only get one chance. As parents, ask yourself if you and your school are doing the absolute best to make it the safest chance possible?
Update (Mar 6 2013): Bialik College signed up as a member of SSCV on March 1 2013. Read the Aleph Melbourne media release.
My initial reaction to seeing the billboard was that it was for the Keshet Australia program but I quickly realised that this wasn’t the case. The reason I thought it might have been for Keshet Australia is because they are “developing an array of engaging education campaigns and initiatives for, and in partnership with, Jewish communal organisations; especially schools, youth movements, aged care-homes and synagogues”.
Optimistically, it would be ideal if Keshet Australia was associated with Bnei Akiva Australia. The kids who participate in those programs definitely need the education about sexual orientation and gender identity that Keshet Australia intends to empower leaders in Jewish organisations with.
A collaboration between Bnei Akiva, Keshet Australia and Yavneh College would help safeguard the welfare of the most important assets in the Jewish community, the children. Intolerance of homosexuality contributes to poor mental health outcomes, self-harm and suicide. Ignoring the reality of this situation compounds the problem, only to the community’s detriment.
I actually had a quick look to see if there was any material online that Bnei Akiva had made available to help understand sexual orientation or homosexuality. I only found one page on Bnei Akiva UK’s web-site discussing “controversial topics” that had a rough scan of some questions about homosexuality from a religious perspective. Sadly, there were no answers, just questions.
I urge the educators in the Jewish community to work with organisations like Keshet Australia and Safe Schools Coalition Victoria and invest in the health and happiness of community that really does show its true colours.
Australian Masorti rabbi Adam Stein speaks out against Dr Miriam Grossman.
I applaud Rabbi Adam Stein of the Melbourne Conservative/Masorti Synagogue Kehilat Nitzan for taking this responsible and appropriate stance in relation to a communication about tomorrow’s talk at Glen Eira College by Dr Miriam Grossman.
From: […]@kehilatnitzan.org.au Sent: Thursday, 28 June 2012 12:24 PM To: […] Subject: News sheet follow up regarding Sex Education Event
Dear Kehilat Nitzan members,
I wish to apologise for sending out a notice about an event called “Sex Education – Protecting Our Children’s Well-Being.” The shule was sent an email asking us to promote the event (as was every shule in the community, it seems), and I should have read the announcement more carefully. If I had, I would have noticed that the sponsor is the Australian Family Association, which is devoted to denying marriage and even civil union rights to loving gay and lesbian couples. I would have noticed that, contrary to what the title might imply, Miriam Grossman seems to be a crusader against sex education in schools. After a couple of hours of research late last night, I found her to be in agreement with the chair of the program, Shimon Cowen, who calls homosexuality “an abnormality, which as far as possible should be treated.” It seems this program may be part of Dr. Cowen’s recent anti-gay screeds found in the past few months throughout many issues of the Australian Jewish News and even the MX paper found at train stations, attacking the Safe School Coalition Victoria for its approach to preventing bullying and sex education, at least in part because they teach that being gay is OK. In Dr Cowen’s view, it is not and should be fixed. (This so called “Reparative Therapy,” by the way, has been debunked as damaging in study after study. Even the study he cites time and again was retracted by its own author. See the five letters to the AJN a couple of weeks ago by psychologists and psychiatrists attacking Cowen for his damaging views.
Miriam Grossman obviously does not like the way sex education is run in America, and perhaps Australian schools. You may agree or disagree with her, and may even decide to go to the event. I’ll be doing a consecration at a cemetery at the time; otherwise, I might go myself to hear what she has to say.
The email we received and sent out stated “The following Public Address has been approved by the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and Rabbis of all denominations” The Rabbinical Council of Victoria contains only Orthodox rabbis, and I would be surprised to hear of any non-Orthodox rabbis approving of this talk.
Please accept our apology for sending out a notice for a program which does not in any way reflect the Worldwide Masorti Movement and especially not the values of Kehilat Nitzan. For an approach to sexuality, and homosexuality, which better reflect a Masorti/Conservative view of halachah to which I adhere, I suggest the following resources:
Rabbi Adam Stein became the rabbi at Kehilat Nitzan in August 2011. He received his ordination from The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He also earned a Master of Arts in Education from AJU. Before coming to Kehilat Nitzan, Rabbi Stein was the Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City, Missouri.
His journey to the rabbinate began in high school and in college at the University of California, San Diego, when he spent his junior year at Hebrew University and summers at Camp Ramah and the Brandeis Collegiate Institute. Following college, he studied in Israel at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.
In addition to Judaism, Rabbi Stein counts among his great loves his wife Tamar, his parents, sister, extended family and… Macintosh computers.
Rabbi Stein is in and out of the office meeting with congregants, at funerals, making hospital visits, and so on. He will be available in the office (Level 1, 230 Balaclava Road, Caulfield Junction) on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons between 2 pm and 4 pm if you want to meet with him. You can call him at 0422 674 455 or send an email.